The institutional divide between VET and higher education in Norway: Tracing the historical background
The need to develop new linkages between vocational education and training (VET) and higher education (HE) in order to facilitate lifelong learning, has evolved into an increasingly important political issue. Both European states and the EU have pushed for the dismantling of boundaries between upper secondary and higher education (Graf 2013). In Norway candidates from VET in general are denied access to higher education, this denial produces an institutional divide between VET and higher education (Baethge 2006). The paper traces the background for this, asking how the divide between VET and higher education historically have been constructed.
Starting in the 1960s, the education system in Norway has been through a number of structural reforms, many of them, with an overall aim to establish homogeneous education levels, both for higher and for upper secondary education. Earlier, mainly sectoral based regulations have been replaced by one law for each educational level, in order to regulate the organisation, activities, responsibilities, and admission criteria independently of sector. As a rule, only general education at the upper secondary level gives admission to higher education, while vocational education and training do not. There are, however, small, but significant signs of a weakening of this hitherto rigid divide between HE and VET, as broader admission criteria have been introduced in some HE institutions and in some educational fields.
Prior to the processes of standardisation and the contemporary regulations of the levels of education, the relations between different types of education and the vertical educational tracks, were organised in different ways, according to specific sectorial rules and practices. The empirical basis of this paper is to focus on how the process of institutionalizing education levels took place in two different sectors historically, the cases will be the areas of health care and technology respectively. It investigates how borders, admission rules and practices between VET at upper secondary level and higher education have evolved in these areas.
The analytical framework is historical institutionalism (Streeck and Thelen 2004, Thelen 2004). We suggest that institutional change gradually takes place, and that institutional forms are typically a result of social and political controversies and struggles, not only at the national, but also at a sectoral level. In addition, we will apply organisational institutionalism (DiMaggio and Powell 1991), and hereby suggest that there exists a potential for change of institutions, when and if actors, with the necessary power resources in the individual institutions, see possibilities for change. Due to a variety of factors like changes in the student composition, funding regulations, older divides, legitimation practices, rules and actor constellations both in education and the labour market, HE institutions may be challenged by newer forms of legitimation, rules and practices. In areas like technology and health care, we expect to find that professions play a crucial, but different role in mediating between HE institutions and the labour market actors, and in maintaining or modifying borders between HE institutions and VET.
To analyse the historical development, we use a systematic process tracing (Mahoney 2004) to capture the development of, and relations between, the educations at the different levels in health care and technology from the 1960s and forward.
The cases are selected with the assumption that health care and technology represent two different dynamics in the relation between education and working life. While the employees in the technical field through their practices seem to have weakened the educational divide, the employees in health care and nursing seem to have contributed to a strengthening of the divide. We expect this would in turn to influence practices in the education system, but in opposite directions for the two cases investigated.
The paper represents a first step in investigating the relations between VET and HE in Norway. It is part of a broader project in which we aim to establish a cross-national comparative research project in the field.
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